Amazon Sacks Staff At Drone Division – Report

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Has Amazon’s ambitions to build its own inhouse drones crashed and burned? Retail giant lays off staff and turns to outside specialists

Amazon’s lofty ambitions to develop and build its own inhouse fleet of drones for shopping deliveries could be in the balance, according to media reports.

The Financial Times reported that Amazon is laying off dozens of R&D and manufacturing staff working on its delivery drone service Amazon Prime Air.

It comes after the aviation regulator in the United States (the Federal Aviation Administration) in late August granted Amazon an important certificate for its drone delivery ambitions.

Amazon Prime Air

The FAA granted Amazon what is called a Part 135 air carrier certificate, which must be held before a company begins drone deliveries.

Despite Amazon spending years researching and developing its own drone fleet, including a possible floating mothership retail hub (a warehouse in the sky) for drone deliveries, it seems that Amazon has turned to outside expertise.

According to the FT, the e-commerce giant has turned to two external manufacturers to build components for the drones, with additional deals potentially in the pipeline, a person familiar with Amazon’s plans told the newspaper.

The job losses would occur in the research and development part of Amazon Prime Air, as well as in manufacturing, the FT reported Thursday, citing a person familiar with Amazon’s plans as its source.

Indeed, Amazon has reportedly reached tentative deals with Spain’s Aernnova Aerospace and Austria’s FACC Aerospace to manufacture component parts of its drone.

A person familiar with the matter told the FT that the full terms of the agreements were still being finalised.

But it seems the firm has sent out a “request for proposal” to multiple companies over the past year, meaning additional deals with third parties could also be reached soon, the person said.

Amazon’s drone deliveries are still “years away,” the person reportedly said, but development will “slowly but surely” progress at the start of next year.

Long development

Amazon has been plotting to use drones for deliveries for almost seven years now, having first mooted the idea back in 2013.

The idea is that drones can deliver packages weighing up to 2.3 kilograms in under 30 minutes.

But the whole concept has been hindered by regulatory red tape and delays.

Amazon it should be noted had already tested drone deliveries in the United Kingdom – four years ago.

This occurred when Amazon began testing its unmanned delivery drone service in Cambridge in July 2016.

A package was delivered, by drone, in just 13 minutes.

But in the US, restrictions have led to frustration for drone companies.

In 2015 for example Amazon said it had been testing its “Prime Air” delivery drones in Canada’s British Columbia, after the e-commerce giant had previously criticised the US rules as an overly restrictive to the technology.

In June 2019 the FAA granted Amazon a permit to operate its updated drone in the United States, before it issued in September this year a Part 135 air carrier certificate, which must be held before a company begins drone deliveries.

But it will face competition.

In April 2019, Google (Wing Aviation) gained the FAA’s air carrier certification to begin home deliveries. UPS has also gained the certification.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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